Tournament bass fishing in the Western United States is a type of economic barometer. The 2011 tournament season is basically over and participation numbers have been way down this year. This current trend is matching the pace of the economy.
The following guidelines are meant to help someone new to tournament fishing as an amateur/co-angler/AAA. These guidelines are not about the art of catching fish from the back of the boat. That is another aspect of amateur tournament fishing worthy of a completely separate article. The approach in this piece outlines the things you will need to manage before, between and after the casts.
Sunrise Staging, all the possibilities are before you and about to unfold.
Hopefully these tips will help you better prepare and your preparation makes for a smooth day. These lists target necessary management tasks before and after you wet a line. Having a successful day goes beyond the catch and success is the best way to get you to return for another event.
Not every Co-Angler, non-boater, amateur draw tournament is the same. Some events are shared weight formats and others are not. Much of the etiquette transcends all draw tournaments and some is strictly unique to the shared weight program. Below is an outline of how an amateur might approach a pro/am tournament featuring a shared weight format.
I am using Pro/Am contests as the initial model because this format has the highest potential for mutual cooperation between the pro and the am. In this format you and the Pro are fishing for the same 5 bass limit. The two of you for the day are a team and at the end of the day the weight of the catch is applied to each angler.
Pro/Am Shared Weight Draw Tournament
On the internet look up the tournament organization that you have chosen to fish with.
Find the link to the Pro-Am tournaments. There you will find event dates, entry forms, deadlines, entry fees, rules, everything you need to know. The tournament director's contact information will be listed if you have questions.
If you know of a pro angler who is going to fish the event, in most organizations, you can link with that person for the entry sign up. A pro and an amateur linked together will for most circuits, not all, guarantee each other's entry. If you are entering without a linked pro it is a good idea to register early and check on the status of your entry prior to traveling.
You never know who you might draw, Rick Clunn 2010 U.S. Open.
Ok your entry is confirmed and you are ready to take advantage of an unique situation. You are about to fish with a high level angler, sometimes the highest. You are going to be behind this person all day as they go about the business of winning. Regardless of what skill level you possess the opportunity to learn is going to be all around you. For about the fee of a one day guide trip you participate in two full days, or more of on the water exposure with separate pros. This is a great learning experience and it also happens to be lots of fun!
Pre Event Meeting
Every organization will have an official meeting. Usually the evening prior to the first day of competition. Rules, flight schedules, check in times and pairings will be announced at this meeting. All anglers are required to attend.
What needs to be accomplished at the registration/pre tournament meeting;
- Have a system or the necessary tools so you are prepared to take notes, names and numbers.
- After pairings are announced meet your draw for the next day.
- Ask what the pro wants you to be rigged with. Not every pro will be prepared for this question. Those that know how to use the AAA to their advantage will.
- If the pro asks you to rig something that you do not have, let them know. That way they can either bring it for your use or adapt another plan.
- Exchange cell phone numbers.
- Establish your morning meeting place and time.
- At no time during an event is it permissible to discuss the pro's plan, fishing locations or fishing techniques with another pro or AAA angler.
Pre Event Preparation
The official meeting is over. You have met and discussed the game plan for the next day with your pro partner. Now it is time to arrange everything for the next day. Use your time efficiently, the morning wake up alarm is approaching fast.
- If you haven't already, obtain the appropriate fishing license(s). Be aware of fisheries that cross state lines. You will need a separate license or stamp added to an existing license to legally fish when you cross a border. Don't take chances, it is better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. Without the required license you risk disqualification. Tournament officials can tell you exactly what is required and how to obtain it.
- Pick up cash for the next day's shared boat fuel costs, the more the boat is driven with the big engine the more you should expect to pay. Usually if a pro knows they are going to make a long run they tell you prior. Expect $20 to $40 for limited shorter big engine runs. When at big lakes with long runs you might need more cash for gas. It is customary that the non-boat angler share in the expenses of boat fuel and oil costs for the time you are together on the water.
- You will need to bring your own 'approved' life jacket.
- Rig and pack gear as soon as possible, this includes food bars, drinks, clothing, fishing license and life jacket. Travel compact and light but make sure you are prepared for the weather and water conditions.
- Wind, big water and big waves means wet weather gear even during a sunny hot summer day.
- Be prepared for sun and eye protection, multiple days on the water creates a lot of exposure.
- An experienced AAA will carry on average only five to six rods. Too many rods and they get in the way of each other. You have a narrow slot between your seat and the gunnel of the boat.
- Be prepared to have all of your gear at your feet (see photo below).
- Treat yourself to an excellent dinner.
- Set morning alarm clocks and schedule wake up calls. Some heavy sleepers may need to have a backup plan. Depending on how far you are staying from the launch site most days start between 4:00 and 5:00 am.
- Get as much sleep as possible.
Sometimes a pro will empty the compartment box behind your seat for your gear but don't count on it. Your space is the passenger seat, the floor of the cockpit directly in front of your seat and the co-angler rod slot. That is it and if the boat features dual consoles it is even tighter. Less gear has many advantages. Versatility is the key to limiting rods and equipment.
Competition Day Before Launch
The alarm is ringing, and if you are like me you are already awake and excited. A day full of possibilities awaits you.
- Be on time and ready to get in the boat when you meet your draw. Don't show up and still need to organize your equipment.
- Bathroom breaks are nonexistent once you are on the water.
- Handle or help with as many pre-launch general tasks as you are capable of, such as; boat preparation, launching, truck and trailer parking.
- Tell the pro if you are not comfortable performing these functions. It is okay if you are not but the tournament morning is not the place to learn or practice.
- Turn off the headlights, lock the truck and manage the pro's keys wisely while in your possession. Secure the keys in a closed pocket before going near the water.
- I always get the truck at the end of the day so I keep the keys, unless asked or on the rare occasion a pro does not want to be launched. If the pro happens to ask for the keys hand them to him or her, never toss them.
- Discuss how the net is going to be handled and how it operates before you begin to fish. If your netting experiences are limited or you are unsure then just let the pro know this. It is better to discuss this before the critical moment arrives. If your net skills are limited it is ok and if the Pro has to handle it by themselves, they will be fine, just communicate effectively.
Competition Day On The Water
Blasting Off Pickwick Lake Stren Championship 2009
This is it, you are taking off. No turning back now. Establishing a focus and a commitment to catch fish will serve you well.
- Be aware of wet, slippery or icy walking and stepping hazards, especially at the dock. For your own safety of course but also at the end of the day if you are handling fish. I don't think I could face my pro draw if I slipped and dropped the weigh bag fish in the water. This will never happen with a small bag of keepers, only with big kickers, multiple kickers.
- Do not allow your hooks to come near anything you don't want them hooking, like the boat seats. Lure covers will prevent rod tangles and torn seats.
- If on the back cast you hook your pro's face knock him out with your fists before attempting to remove the hooks. Ah just kidding I needed to check if you were still with me, but do be careful!
- Learn to fish and wear your life vest all day. You will get in and out of your seat much quicker.
- Learn the pro's queue for when they are going to pull up the trolling motor and make a run. If the pro doesn't have one ask them to give you a 'heads up' just before they are ready to move.
- Be in your seat with your gear secured and ready to motor before the pro when this queue happens. You don't want the pro to have to wait on you. This is why I leave my PFD on; it is also warmer in the winter.
- Stay out of the pro's way when he moves to and from the driver's seat and the front deck.
- Let the pro go to the front deck first and make sure you know which way he wants to go before casting. It is not a good idea to cast into his target first. You can do this if you want but it will have a negative effect on how the pro treats you and positions the boat from then on.
- Stay off the front deck unless invited, netting or playing a fish. If the pro wants you up there they will tell you.
- Learn the pro's conversation pace and don't surpass it. Everyone is different and some excellent fisherman are just quite by nature and may find your chatter distracting. You want the pro to fish in their comfort zone not yours.
- Manage net storage if it needs to be moved before and after getting into your running seats.
- Manage any fish you touch in the bottom of the cockpit. The fishing decks are a bad place to handle the catch, do not drop or allow a fish to flop overboard. This is another I can't look you in the eye moment.
- Stay out of the live wells unless you are asked to check on the fish. If you open a live well lid be aware that bass can jump out and flop to freedom if you're not careful. Keep the lid closed and the latch fastened.
- Demonstrate excellent netting skills. Again remember if your netting skills are limited then let the pro know this. The pro will either coach you or net the fish on their own. You are not helping if you knock a fish off with the net. Just like slipping at the dock only big fish get knocked off.
- Obey all tournament rules, stop fishing when the pro is culling the sixth fish.
- Trust in the suggestions made by the pro, work with them.
- When walking from the parking lot to the dock if you cross mud or bird droppings don't step directly into the boat. Take your shoes off as you step in. Rinse them in the water over the side of the boat. Once clean then put them on. It is very cool and much appreciated if you can avoid tracking muck into someone else's boat.
- Remember that even the best can have an off day. I suggest not being critical of a pro who is not on fish. If you think you can consistently perform better, then ante up and fish as a pro. Otherwise it is just fishing and not world peace. At one point or another everyone is dealt a difficult hand so just get through it and move on. (see very last tip on After Weigh In list)
- I never say "I out fished my pro". I feel that they took me to their water and I caught fish based on their homework and efforts so I prefer to show respect.
- Respect the equipment, locations and techniques the pro has shared with you.
- Do not spill your scent products on another person's boat. If you can't manage this then don't bring them aboard. This is probably the number one complaint I hear from pros concerning co's, boat damage.
- When moving around the boat do not step on any gear, pay particular attention to the pro's rods on the front deck.
- During big engine runs anything light weight that is not secured will blow out of the boat.
- With the lure hook secured, wrapping the running end of your fishing line around the rod blank and guides can help prevent tangles with other rods.
- Keep your gear out of the pros way, this is easiest when you travel light.
- Handle your equipment smoothly and quietly, organization and again traveling light makes this easier.
- Eat and drink between stops when the boat is being driven with the big engine. Don't waste fishing time; this is not a picnic.
- Wear a time piece, do not assume the pro is aware of the time remaining and when your flight check in time is. I have had to take out the printed flight schedule and show my draw that they were incorrect by 30 minutes. Taking this responsibility has avoided late check-in penalties for me many times. Penalties that would have cost me money and a FLW top 10 finish. I can't stress this one enough.
- Some fisheries cross time zones so be aware that cell phones and GPS units are not perfect time pieces. They are capable of displaying time that is off by an hour. Find a reliable watch that doesn't lose time and test it before you go fishing.
- As time winds down ask the pro what time he wants to leave for check-in, then monitor the clock for both of you so the pro can maximize focus on catching that last cull fish.
- Be prepared mentally and physically to remain in the best possible posture for every fishing moment available until your are back at the dock.
- Never give up; any well placed cast has a shot at anytime, it might be the only fish, the fifth fish, an upgrade fish or even the biggest fish, just keep fishing.
- Fish to the best of your abilities, that is all anyone can ask of you.
- Have fun and enjoy.
After Weigh In
A happy pro and co, Rapala Pro Troy Lindner and Co- angler Jerry Garcia with their best Clear Lake bass, look at these guys nothing but smiles!
The fish have been weighed and released. The two of you have caught them well and everyone is happy. But there are a few items to take care of before you can relax.
- Trailer the boat from the ramp to the parking lot and always use extra caution when operating someone else's equipment.
- • Give back any lures the pro had you tie on.
- Remove your gear promptly from the pro's boat.
- Help with any boat travel preparation and boat cleaning, you should at least remove your trash so while you're at it you might as well get all of it.
- Pay for half of the on the water boat fuel expenses, ice, etc.
- Be cool and remember you will see many of the same people again.
After Weigh In Multiple Day Events
Tournaments require stamina and concentration. Multiple day events are extremely physically and mentally demanding. As an angler I find them to be one of the most challenging things I have ever done. Getting through your checklists efficiently and resting is important. It will make a big difference in your energy levels especially on multiple day tournaments.
- Contact you next day partner as quickly as possible, if you get voice mail always leave a message and your phone number.
- If you are not able to reach your draw the day prior be on time at the launch site and locate the tournament director. Dead phones, lost phones, no phones it happens. All will be handled and will be fine.
- Repeat this process until the rest of the field has dropped out and you are the only one left standing!
- Settle in, learn and above all have fun.
If one person reads these checklists and it helps with their experience then I have met my goal. In these uncertain times we need as much positive participation as possible. Anything that helps should be a common goal.
2010 AAA U. S. Open Lake Mead Champion Chris Ricci (arm's raised) has the spirit!
Bass tournament fishing is a sport. A sport is an organized, competitive, entertaining and a skillful physical activity requiring commitment, strategy and fair play. Never lose sight of this definition and you will fit right in.
As a non-boater or non pro angler if you are considering entering a draw tournament I hope these guidelines will serve you well in getting the most out of the occasion. Often the little things will have a big impact on how your day goes. If you are a seasoned 'Co' or a Pro maybe there is something you can add to these guidelines and of course anyone's comments and questions are very welcome.